Back in the day, dancers often studied a single technique and swore allegiance to one choreographer. Now, dancers typically must handle a much wider range of physical and creative demands. One way to gain the mental and physical resilience their careers require is through the practice of yoga.
Yoga classes that incorporate all aspects of the practice, from philosophy and breath work to poses and meditation, have the most to offer. A good class will balance internal and external rotation in the hips and shoulders, stability with mobility in the torso and even the exhale of breath with the inhale. Perhaps most helpful of all, yoga draws us into the present moment, settling our attention so that the mind can begin to quiet. Students are encouraged to work from the inside out; to let go of attachment to specific shapes and tune in to the felt experience of each pose. By freeing dancers from fixating on the mirror, yoga can deepen a dancer’s kinesthetic intelligence and depth as a performer.
Yoga studio owner and teacher in Brooklyn, New York
Former member of Jennifer Muller/The Works
Brilliant has practiced yoga for more than 30 years.
“Since yoga isn’t a performing art, but an inward healing journey, it can help dancers move away from the fourth wall and the mirror toward their own personal experiences and development. Yoga has given me a long career of teaching, and a philosophy for life both on and off the mat. At a certain point, I thought that I could continue to teach dance to dancers, or, yoga, I could teach to anyone. To me, it’s really all the same—dancing, personal training and yoga. And my quads are definitely more flexible because of my yoga practice.”
Principal dancer, Martha Graham Dance Company
Ellmore-Tallitsch has practiced yoga for more than 16 years.
“Yoga has helped me become a more mindful artist, not just my own body awareness, but the awareness of others in the space around me. This is possible in part through consistent practice of pranayama. These special breathing practices bring one into a place of focused attention.”
Junior principal dancer with Sarasota Ballet
Overstreet has practiced yoga for five years.
“I first tried yoga because it felt good to stretch. Over time it has helped me build upper-body strength, as well as work my hamstrings, quads and glutes, in different ways from how we work in ballet. In yoga you work in parallel, which is a challenge as a ballerina. The mental freedom you get is also extremely beneficial for dancers. Instead of being corrected and criticizing yourself, you are away from the mirror and instructed to love yourself and appreciate all your body does. It’s a refreshing way to think. I use yoga not only as exercise, but also as a way to clear my mind.”
Rosie Lani Fiedelman
Broadway performer, The Lion King
Fiedelman has practiced yoga for 12 years.
“As a dancer, as well as a fitness instructor, I am always looking for ways to stay in shape and support the longevity of my body. Yoga is not only a physical challenge, but a meditation and a way to regain my sense of being grounded. For me, yoga has become a way to re-find myself when everything in the outside world is hectic and crazy. It is a way of healing physically and mentally.”
Susan Kraft is a former dancer turned yoga instructor and was coordinator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division Oral History Project for 20 years.
Two programs that have developed yoga and teacher training curriculums specifically with dancers in mind:
Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V. Desikachar
Yoga Anatomy, 2nd edition by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee by Rodney Yee
Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Hanson Lasater